Photo Essays

Social Transformation (South Africa)

Photos and Captions by Adam Hocke

Township Boy, Khayelitsha
Four weeks abroad and you get to know a lot of people -particularly in a country as welcoming and generous as South Africa. I can't forget the eyes of this boy. We were visiting Khayelitsha township, near Capetown, when a group of curious children assembled outside a community center we were touring. We took pictures, and showed them the results on our digital cameras, much to their delight. We gave them high fives and words of encouragement. But I couldn't help but look into this boy's eyes and understand the urgency of our task. Our study of education and social reform was not purely academic - it was about embracing and acting on our shared humanity. I looked out across Khayelitsha and saw millions of inhabitants in roughly constructed tin shacks with little access to modern conveniences, and I couldn't dismissively say "you deserve this" - all I could think was "you deserve better." Our journey had barely begun.

Table Mountain, Robben Island View
A bay separates Robben Island, the Alcatraz-like prison that held political prisoners during the Apartheid era, from the majesty of Table Mountain overlooking Capetown. We took a boat ride and enjoyed the sea creatures and rainbows breaking through the waves. Later, driving across the island, touring the facilities, and standing for a moment in the interplay of light and shadow outside of the tiny cell that held captive Nelson Mandela, we learned a lesson of the power of hope. Mandela and colleagues were not defeated here. They educated themselves and worked for a future they soon realized. Mandela even invited his jailers to his inauguration. Our tour guide described the island as a monument to reconciliation and forgiveness - a lesson the world can use.

Returning as men, Venda
After our second week we took a weekend trip to the Venda region of the Limpopo Province. My homestay family took me at dawn to a meeting with a rural chief. Along the way, we encountered a group of fifty or so boys on a dirt road returning from a three week manhood initiation and circumcision ritual in the bush.

After breaking free we made our way on to the top of a mountain on the border of Zimbabwe to attend the Chief's meeting. The four hour discussion was highly democratic, and focused on the need for jobs, education, and electricity in the area. After a tour of the village, the Chief called me into his hut for a more private discussion. He asked "What will you do for us?" I fumbled through my answer, but knew in my heart I could educate and I could make a difference in my small way. Everything we were learning in class was becoming real.

Elephant afternoon in Kruger
South Africa is a country of great beauty. On safari in Kruger National Park we encountered elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos and more. We stared up into the night sky and saw more stars than any of us had ever seen. Across the world, away from our homes, we felt deeply connected with this country. But we had to remind ourselves it was not just a land of lions, tigers, and bears – but a country that was trying to assert its rightful place in the world. A place challenged by a four hundred year legacy of racism and inequality. But a place that was committed to change.

Morning Assembly, Mamelodi
Our final field trip, among the many illuminating our class discussions, speakers, and readings, was to a primary school outside of Pretoria. 1200 children crammed into a small open area within the school to sing to us during their morning assembly. As they sang "This little light of mine" or lit up as we read stories with them, we understood what our trip was all about. We understood ourselves better as educators, and we understood the power of education and social reform in a global context. It wasn’t about us or the degrees we may receive, but what we can do with them. Driving to the airport I noticed the billboard across the University of South Africa in Pretoria. It read Nelson Mandela’s instruction that "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." We are to be a part of that change.